Design for Positive Impact Meetup

Koos
Mariana Ribeiro

Reading time
11 min read

Date
Aug 05, 2021

At Koos, we are committed to create a better world by Design. In order to make our way towards that, we created our own purpose agenda so we can see the path and know which steps to take. Based on The Triple Bottom Line, that agenda is divided into three topics: People, Planet, and Profit. While we are already making our way towards People and Planet, (ask Michael and Joost if you want to know more!), we are keen on learning more about the latest topic: Profit. 

We believe that there is no necessary trade-off between profit and impact, and actually, the better way to achieve a long-lasting purposeful goal is by creating a sustainable and profitable business. But because we are no experts on the subject, we invited three guest speakers to learn their perspectives and experience on the matter, and share their knowledge about how to create a sustainable business while having a positive impact.

The speakers:

Ângela, a corporate associate at Maze
Laura, an investment manager in Rubio Impact Ventures
Carlos, the President of the Board of directors and CEO of IES Social Business School

Ângela’s perspective

About Maze: 

Maze is an impact investment firm. They accelerate and invest in solutions that deliver impactful outcomes. They do it by having a venture capital fund, accelerating and helping startups grow, running corporate and startup pilots, and working with the public sector to drive innovation in social services through innovation funds and social impact bonds. They inspire organizations to solve social and environmental challenges. 

Maze exists to prove that impact is the greatest economic opportunity of our time. With customer experience, everybody already knows the importance of it, the value of a loyal customer, but with impact, its value still needs to be proven every day.

Ângela

About impact:

The main thing to have in mind: impact needs to come from a place of purpose and passion. You can’t force people to work on impact. Also, impact takes a lot of time and change is really slow. If you stop at the first resistance, impact doesn’t happen. You plant the seed, you water it and you hope something will grow from there. It’s not a field for people who want things fast, it’s a place of depth, hard conversations, and a lot of influence, but it’s amazing and really inspiring.

Many of the innovations they have seen in their field were led by Design, and they believe that Design’s contribution is what distinguishes solid impactful solutions. They see Design’s role in Positive impact companies, organizations, and startups summarized in three areas:

  • 1. Problems that have been around for long, that need deep research and analysis on why it hasn’t been solved yet

These problems need a lot of user research to understand why the implemented solutions are not working.
Often these products are adapted to an audience that is not the end-users. This sometimes causes this common assumption that people are very resistant, and they don’t want to use their products or services, instead of taking the time to understand their real end-users and take their needs into account.

  • 2. Social problems that require creative funding mechanisms/ operational models.

Innovative models are needed when facing social problems that are recurring and that traditional standardized mechanisms are not able to respond in order to find a solution. Therefore, creative mechanisms and models come into place, benefitting the multiple parties involved with ways to address those social problems.

  • 3. It takes a lot of research and market analysis to build successful lock-step models

All the start-ups Maze works with have sustainable business models. It’s not just building something great for the planet, profit, and the people, it needs to have a financial return. The lock-step model consists exactly in that, the more impact you have, the more revenue you create. But in order to do that, a lot of research is needed to understand why the people you’re serving are underserved, and how could you start generating revenue from that.

Laura’s perspective 

About Rubio:

Rubio Ventures’ goal is to show the world that you can unite financial return and impact. It’s not a tradeoff, and can actually reinforce each other, through impact investing.

Laura

About Impact:

Impact investing is not about donating money, it’s about funding entrepreneurial solutions to large societal problems. They started doing so with a venture capital fund in the Netherlands by supporting entrepreneurs that wanted to solve these kinds of pressing issues. Their success is proving that this works and they want to make sure many more talented entrepreneurs try to come up with solutions like these.

They look for opportunities for scalable solutions in three impact themes: circular solutions, with issues related to planetary threats; people power, with issues related to unemployment and poverty; and healthy living, regarding rising social health issues.

To help with framing the scope when looking for impact, they use the SDGs as a starting point and then tailor the companies’ impact targets according to the situation. 

They’re always looking for companies and entrepreneurs that are trying to help the world with great solutions. These are some of the most important elements they look for in companies when investing:

  • 1. Measurable, systemic impact; 

It always starts with impact. It’s part of their whole investment process and it’s its main core. Rubio mainly wants to know if the company can make real change in a sustainable way, by understanding if its mission links with the product or service provided.

  • 2. A scalable business model with proven traction;

The most important thing they look at when investing in companies besides the impact they make, it’s the scalability of the model. They believe that if you want to have an impact on a large scale you have to ensure that the business can grow efficiently.

  • 3. Exceptional teams ready to scale; 

How passionate the team is and if they have the right skills to take the company to another level is another of the key-aspects that Rubio looks for.

  • 4. Growth capital across the life cycle.

They look for companies that unite impact and profit without a tradeoff, they look for alignment. And eventually, the more products or services the company provides or sells, the more impact it might have. 

Carlos’s perspective

About IES:

IES is a business school focused on impact and social innovation, aiming at creating an impact ecosystem. They aspire to solve the most pressuring neglected societal issues we are facing, and they do it through three programs: the impact Bootcamp, the impact MBA, and BLip a program for leadership for impact.

It’s all a paradigm shift, it takes time, you can’t change a whole business overnight.

Carlos

About Impact:

Society is slowly shifting towards a new paradigm, where impact is at the core of everything we do. The markets themselves and the way they operate are changing towards this new impact-driven economy. Carlos believes that education has a huge impact on this shift and it’s the way it could break the old-school-conventional-wisdom way of thinking, and try to build a new economical order.

Impact entrepreneurs are much more resilient than regular entrepreneurs. They care more about the problem than the solution itself, and by doing that they are more willing to change their solutions. They want to solve something, so the solution becomes a means to an end and because of that, they pivot easily but are still attached to what they’re building. These entrepreneurs want to change the system. They don’t stop when they create a solution, and also, they want to scale it up quickly. That’s where the business model changes as well, they start building capacity in others, bringing technology into their solutions in order to scale it faster or by embedding them into the system.

Even though the world is slowly changing towards this new economy, there’s a lot of myths when it comes to impact and impact entrepreneurship that are meant to be demystified:

    1. Myth – It has nothing to do with disadvantaged people. It’s about creating value for someone that is excluded, for the environment, but it’s not about judgment, it’s an economic opportunity
    2. Myth – It’s not charity, it’s not about getting resources from one point to another, it’s actually going to the roots of it. It’s about changing systematically
    3. Myth– it’s not about social activism, it’s not about crying out about problems, it’s about doing something about them
    4. Myth – it’s not about corporate responsibility, this is usually a parallel activity to the core activity of the business, impact entrepreneurship it’s about bringing impact and profit together
    5. Myth – it’s not about one sector, it’s about a whole economic system and their influence on each other
    6. Myth – it’s not about revenue and charity where you have two revenue streams, it’s something that makes sense together

Creating positive impact and change in larger organizations falls into the power of intrapreneurs, and their power to change their culture.  To pivot from band-aid solutions to long-term systemic change, they need to prove themselves with internal projects that scale to something else and slowly start reaching C-level and decision-makers’ ears.

Starting with a small project, scaling it up while changing the culture, and then influencing the industry is the way to go. Small changes will produce large effects and in order to change society and a company, one needs to take baby steps. Fighting big corporations doesn’t work, they know their genesis, change-makers need the tools and empowerment to change these companies, and hopefully, these intrapreneurs will be the future leaders and will incentivize these kinds of positive opportunities.

5 key learnings we can withdraw from the session

  • 1. Impact is slow, you can’t rush it

It’s normal to feel frustration about how slowly things are at the corporate level. One way to adapt yourself is to understand you’re dealing with people, with companies, businesses, DNA’s that are not like yours. There’s a need for people to meet eachother halfway, empathize and understand the differences in mindsets.

  • 2. If you want to have an impact, start with little things and grow from there

If you need to sell the importance of positive impact in your company and you need to prove it, start with little things. Instead of changing the whole structure, culture, or whatnot, you start with little things. There’s a need for creativity when you sit at a decision-makers table, to come up with answers to make them see the results quickly. 

  • 3. Come prepared if you want to convince decision-makers

Adding to starting small, it’s important to measure the impact of everything that is done. And come prepared, don’t expect meetings with decision-makers without radical empathy, you need to put yourself in those people’s shoes. Don’t try to sell your own vision, try to understand the pain that they have and speak to that, that is critical.

  • 4. Impact is in its way of becoming the new normal

Shareholder maximization is an outdated view of looking at the world. Now, on one hand, you have the NGO model of doing good things, and always having to raise money, and on the other hand, you have corporations that have sustainable solutions but don’t look at the world and how they could make it a better place. ‘Value for the shareholders’ is shifting to ‘value to stakeholders’.

  • 5. The healthy balance between impact and profit sometimes is tricky, but it’s the way to go

One of the challenges that impact-entrepreneurs face is to bring impact and profit together in a balanced way. The next challenge is how to make it happen from the beginning in order to reshape their business value in a way impact and profit match without being a trade-off.

If you are passionate about topics that make the world a better place, check out our blog about the Meetup: Design for Social Innovation.

Speakers testimonials:

 

Laura: “Great to see that Koos is integrating the triple bottom line principles in its design philosophy. I was happy to share insights of impact investing space with a new generation of design experts, kudos to Koos for providing a platform!”

 

Carlos: 

“Koos has a very important role in generating value for society. Design is the tool of choice for generating more inclusive responses. It was a pleasure to have participated in this meetup, to meet extraordinary people and, above all, to realize that this agenda is about to stay”.

 

Ângela: 

“The Positive Impact meetup was an amazing opportunity for me to stop and think – something that hasn’t been easy these days. I really value the fact that it allowed me to think about why we do what we do, and how we can make our work tangible to others, making it a tool for inspiration and further innovation/impact. Besides that, the session allowed us to increase our network at MAZE, bringing new connections from people around the world that were great sources of insights.

 

It was really a pleasure to be part of this meetup. Koos has been a very good friend of MAZE, helping us to spread the message around the importance of giving space to new ideas, and designing solutions with what is really important at the center of things – the users and the impact we want to create. I love that our paths continue to cross!”

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